Today, with the companionship of my two-year old daughter, I sowed spinach, radish, mizuna, coriander, and cress straight into the garden beds where they are to grow, and courgettes, beans, and cucumbers indoors. If you start these more cold-tender crops indoors on a sunny windowsill, you can be eating them by Christmas (or you can achieve the same by buying them 'ready to plant' in early October).
For me, growing my own food isn't just about reducing the grocery bill - it also fosters a deep connection with the place in which I live. From sowing to germination to growth to harvest and then consumption, it is a process that encapsulates a lot of the richness of life. My home doesn't just provide me with shelter and warmth, it also provides food for day to day life. This 350m2 of Auckland suburbia, with all its faults and failings, is part of who I am.
This to me is rather healthy. While to some I might be waxing lyrical, I love the connection with land, that I grow when I am partly dependent upon it. Sure, our little space doesn't supply all of our family's food needs, but, during the summer and autumn at least, it does go a fair way towards it. And the joy of deciding what to eat for a meal, based on what is abundant out the back door, is a nice lesson in simplicity and contentedness.
One of the desired outcomes of our garden is that we raise our children to become well-rounded adults. From the age of 'nearly three' our daughter is learning little 'toddler-sized' lessons about truths such as the fruits of labour, that rainy days are needed to help our food grow, and that little actions can have big consequences. She already shares the love that I have of sowing seeds, and I hope with time and maturity, she will have the wisdom to see that abundant crops (literally and figuratively) can come from simple, forward thinking actions.
To get the best out of a garden, due attention must be paid to the soil that forms its foundation - it needs to be regularly enriched with inputs that exceed what is taken out, deepened so that roots can reach water and nutrients in the dry times, and also treated with gentleness (don't walk all over your garden beds!). I think there might be some lessons here for me as a father - the challenge to provide the love and encouragement my children need to grow, to provide a home that is a place of refuge when they are struggling or hurt, and to be firm without being hard.
Its never too young to start - parents just need realistic expectations about what a child is capable of. Don't expect straight rows or a well weeded plot! I hope that my children will carry on in the way that they are brought up - knowing that they are deeply loved and cared for, and knowing who they are and where they belong, right down to an understanding of the literal earth beneath their feet. And if they know this, it is my hope they will become people that know their heritage, and who have a strong sense of belonging to their family, their faith, and 'their place', wherever that may be.